‘Open­ing of Kar­tarpur cor­ri­dor is a re­li­gious over­ture … Pak­istan won’t al­low any­one to use it for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons’

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - An Ecstasy Of Ideas -

The 550th birth an­niver­sary of Guru Nanak Dev and the open­ing of the Kar­tarpur cor­ri­dor is a sig­nif­i­cant oc­ca­sion for devo­tees in In­dia and across the world. The prepa­ra­tions in the Pun­jab prov­ince of Pak­istan, where the main gur­d­waras as­so­ci­ated with Guru Nanak are sit­u­ated – Kar­tarpur Sahib, Nankana Sahib, and Panja Sahib – are be­ing over­seen by the gov­er­nor of the prov­ince, Chaudhry Muham­mad Sar­war. With the bi­lat­eral di­a­logue be­tween the two coun­tries sus­pended over the Kash­mir is­sue, he tells Yud­hvir Rana that the oc­ca­sion could help sink dif­fer­ences be­tween the coun­tries.

Why didn’t Pak­istan con­sider open­ing all gur­d­waras to devo­tees in­stead of giv­ing ac­cess to just Kar­tarpur Sahib?

The first step was to give ac­cess to Gur­d­wara Dar­bar Sahib in Kar­tarpur Sahib. As a Mus­lim, if I am 4 km from Me­d­ina and I can only look at the holi­est of holy places through a pair of binoc­u­lars and can­not visit, imag­ine how I would feel.

The Sikhs have waited for 70 years for this cor­ri­dor to ma­te­ri­alise and we are happy to open it for the faith­ful. Pak­istan is spend­ing Rs 15 bil­lon (Pak­istani ru­pees) on the project, in­clud­ing con­struc­tion of new roads and bridges, and this is hap­pen­ing at a time when the Indo-Pak re­la­tions are very tense. But we have al­ways main­tained that we will not jeop­ar­dise the cor­ri­dor project.

Gur­d­wara Dar­bar Sahib ini­tially was on 4 acres of land and we ex­panded it to 42 acres. Re­cently, we also in­cluded 62 acres, cul­ti­vated by Baba Nanak, to the com­plex. Pak­istan will not use even a sin­gle inch of Baba Nanak’s land for com­mer­cial pur­poses. And the $20 ser­vice fee doesn’t meet even a frac­tion of the ex­penses in­curred by the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment to pro­vide fa­cil­i­ties to the ya­tris.

There is ap­pre­hen­sion that Sikh sep­a­ratists could mis­use the oc­ca­sion of Baba Nanak’s

550th birth an­niver­sary and open­ing of the

Kar­tarpur cor­ri­dor to boost their agenda.

We are morally sup­port­ing peo­ple of Kash­mir, but Pak­istan has no in­ten­tion of in­ter­fer­ing in what is go­ing on in In­dia. I want to as­sure ev­ery­one that Pak­istan will not use or al­low any­one to use the re­li­gious oc­ca­sion for any neg­a­tiv­ity or po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. Open­ing of the Kar­tarpur cor­ri­dor is purely a re­li­gious over­ture.

We be­lieve and re­alise that peo­ple-to-peo­ple re­la­tions be­tween Pak­ista­nis and In­di­ans are very strong. Peo­ple of any re­li­gion – Hindu, Sikh, Chris­tian or oth­ers – who visit Pak­istan for pil­grim­age, busi­ness or for hol­i­days, re­ceive a warm wel­come from peo­ple here and so is the case with the Pak­ista­nis vis­it­ing In­dia.

Baba Nanak’s birth an­niver­sary and the open­ing of the cor­ri­dor, which I call peace cor­ri­dor, will help peo­ple of both the na­tions to come closer. They will go back with the mes­sage of peace, com­pas­sion and re­spect and, in the long run, it will bring the two neigh­bours to­gether.

Will there be any kind of visa re­lax­ation for the Sikh com­mu­nity?

Con­ced­ing to the de­mand of the in­ter­na­tional Sikh com­mu­nity, bar­ring those from In­dia, Pak­istan will is­sue 45-day mul­ti­ple en­try visas. Now, a Sikh per­ma­nent res­i­dent of the United States, Canada, or any coun­try apart from In­dia can visit Pak­istan, go to In­dia and come back again, not once but sev­eral times within a pe­riod of 45 days. This was one of the ma­jor de­mands of the in­ter­na­tional Sikh com­mu­nity. The fa­cil­ity has been made avail­able to non-res­i­dent In­dian Sikhs, who are per­ma­nent res­i­dents of other coun­tries. We will con­tem­plate is­su­ing mul­ti­ple en­try visas to In­dian Sikhs in fu­ture if there is any de­mand.

Will Pak­istan open rest of the his­tor­i­cal gur­d­waras and tem­ples for In­di­ans to visit?

I have in­structed all re­gional com­mis­sion­ers to make a list of all the gur­d­waras and Hindu tem­ples and pre­pare a re­port on what kind of re­pairs are re­quired. Once the re­port is re­ceived, we will re­pair, ren­o­vate and pre­serve all these re­li­gious places.

Not just Hindu and Sikh re­li­gious places, we have con­sti­tuted a com­mit­tee for re­li­gious tourism and her­itage, of which I am the chair­man, and we will also pre­serve all the re­li­gious places of Chris­tians, Bud­dhists and Is­lamic her­itage and in­vite peo­ple to visit their re­li­gious places in Pak­istan. Look­ing af­ter mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties is our top pri­or­ity. In­dia too should re­lax the visa regime so that peo­ple from Pak­istan could visit their holy shrines in In­dia.

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